Marshall Comes on Stage

From "The Real Infamy of Pearl Harbor"

Percy L. Greaves, Jr.

If the testimony on the knowledge and actions of the top Navy command on that momentous weekend seems to be confusing and inconsistent, that on the Army side was downright mysterious and almost impossible to comprehend without an understanding of two facts of human nature. The first is that few people will voluntarily confess their mistakes, particularly if they think they can keep them hidden. The second is that few of us have the courage to endanger our careers by confessing the truth, if silence, a little loss of memory, or a change in our recollections can raise our rating with our superiors. Members of the Army and Navy have always found it difficult to differ with, criticize or embarrass their superiors.

The mysteries hidden by the conflicting testimonies of the top Army officers and their juniors may undoubtedly have been due primarily to the derelictions of George C. Marshall, the FDR-appointed Chief of Staff. If Marshall had recalled the truth for the record, his reputation as well as that of his chief, FDR, would certainly have suffered.

One morning as this author met with Senators Ferguson and Brewster before the start of that day's JCC hearings, Ferguson reported an incident of the previous evening. In the men's room at a social affair, he, Ferguson, had overheard Marshall tell the JCC Chairman, Senator Alben Barkley, later Vice President under Truman, that he could not say where he was on the night of December 6-7, because it might get "the Chief," FDR, in trouble. In confirmation of this, we now have the word of a very responsible person, James G. Stahlman, that Secretary Knox told him that both Marshall and Stark were among those who met with Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins at the White House on the night of December 6-7, 1941.

Marshall's Rise to Chief of Staff

Thus, we can easily understand Marshall's difficult position, as well as that of those serving under him. In his long Army career, Marshall had his ups and downs. He started in 1902 as a Second Lieutenant after graduating from Virginia Military Institute. He entered World War I as a Captain and, before its close, was promoted to a temporary Colonel. In May 1919, long after the Armistice, he became Aide-de-Camp of our World War I military hero, General John J. Pershing. Shortly thereafter, he was returned to his permanent rank of Captain to start the slow peacetime promotion back up to Colonel.

While General Douglas MacArthur, West Point 1903 and thus a contemporary of Marshall, was Chief of Staff (1903-1935), Pershing suggested to MacArthur that he raise the recently promoted full Colonel Marshall to Brigadier General. Marshall had served largely in service schools and staff positions, so to round out his experience he was given a command assignment with a top regiment. Marshall, however, devoted so much of his energies to establishing Civilian Conservation Camps, a New Deal program with which the Army was asked to cooperate, that the Inspector General found that the regiment's training program had suffered seriously. Marshall thus missed an opportunity to win his first star and was relegated to the position of Senior Instructor of the Illinois National Guard (1933-1936). Marshall appealed the appointment, but to no avail.

It was only after the first retirement of MacArthur that Marshall's friends succeeded in obtaining his promotion. In July 1938, he was brought to Washington as Director of War Plans. From then on, with the help of Roosevelt's close advisor, Harry Hopkins, his advancement was rapid. He was Deputy Chief of Staff in less than a year and Chief of Staff three months later, advancing from one star to four stars in that short period.

As Chief of Staff, Marshall was

the immediate advisor of the Secretary of War on all matters relating to the Military Establishment, and is charged by the Secretary of War with the planning, development and execution of the military program.

After June 1940, the Secretary of War was Henry L. Stimson, a long-time advocate of tightening the noose around Japan's economic neck.

As Chief of Staff, Marshall was also

in peace, by direction of the President, the Commanding General of the Field Forces and in that capacity directs the field operations and the general training of the several Armies of the oversea forces and of the GHQ units. He continues to exercise command of the Field Forces after the outbreak of war until such time as the President shall have specifically designated a Commanding General thereof.

In this capacity, Marshall reported directly to FDR, a President who felt it was his duty to support and subsidize the Soviet Union while opposing the Japanese. Marshall did not always agree with the actions of his two superiors. However, he was certainly in sympathy with their overall plans and policies. Whatever his weaknesses may have been, Marshall was certainly a loyal and devoted deputy of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Marshall's Responsibility for the Fleet

As Chief of Staff, he and the President were the only ones with legal authority to issue command orders to the Field Commanders, including Lieutenant General Walter C. Short, Marshall's appointee as Commanding General of the Hawaiian Department. The Secretary of War, as a civilian, was outside this line of command. On February 7, 1941, Marshall wrote a long letter to his new appointee.

My Dear Short: I believe you take over command today....

Admiral Stark said that Kimmel had written him at length about the deficiencies of Army materiel for the protection of Pearl Harbor. He referred specifically to planes and anti-aircraft guns.... What Kimmel does not realize is that we are tragically lacking in this materiel throughout the Army, and that Hawaii is on a far better basis than any other command in the Army.

The fullest protection for the Fleet is the rather than a major consideration for us; there can be little question about that; but the Navy itself makes demands on us for commands other than Hawaii....

You, of course, understand the pressure on the Department for the limited materiel we have.... However, as I have already said, we are keeping clearly in mind that our first concern is to protect the Fleet.

My impression of the Hawaiian problem has been that if no serious harm is done us during the first six hours of known hostilities, thereafter the existing defenses would discourage an enemy against the hazard of an attack. The risk of sabotage and the risk involved in a surprise raid by Air and by submarine, constitute the real perils of the situation. Frankly, I do not see any landing threat in the Hawaiian Islands so long as we have air superiority.

Please keep clearly in mind in all your negotiations that our mission is to protect the base and the Naval concentration, and that purpose should be clearly apparent to Admiral Kimmel....

During the JCC hearings, Marshall testified:

I had a very vital interest, the Army had a very vital interest, in the Fleet at Pearl Harbor because the obligation to protect Pearl Harbor was an Army obligation.

It was thus Marshall's obligation to supply the Hawaiian Command, to the best of his ability, the materiel it needed for the defense of the Fleet. Yet, he sat on the Board that allocated scarce materiel and in the capacity acquiesced to the granting of much of the materiel Hawaii needed to the British, the Chinese and the communist Soviet Union. He also ordered that most of Hawaii*s needed four engine bombers be sent on to the Philippines. No doubt this was all in agreement with the wishes of his two superiors. Marshall testified that he concurred with a November 24, 1941, memorandum of his War Plans Chief on the proposed modus vivendi that:

Even a temporary peace in the Pacific would permit us to complete defensive preparations in the Philippines and at the same time insure continuance of material assistance to the Britishboth of which are highly important.... War Plans Division wishes to emphasize it is of grave importance to the success of our war effort in Europe that we reach a modus vivendi with Japan.

This would seem to indicate that in November 1941, Marshall gave the Philippines and "our war effort in Europe" a higher priority than Pearl Harbor and the Pacific Fleet.

Marshall a Key Figure

As we have seen, when Secretary Stimson sent his warning messages of November 27, over Marshall's signature, he included the sentence: "Report measures taken." Under Army regulations then in force, an officer reporting the measures taken as the result of such a message can assume his measures are approved unless later countermanded or supplemented by his superior. Short reported to Marshall that he had alerted for sabotage, which Marshall had earlier stated was one of the two "real perils of the situation." While Marshall could not recall that reply, he was forced to admit he must have seen it. The original had been stamped, "Noted: Chief of Staff," and was stapled under MacArthur's reply, which Marshall had initialled. Yet, Marshall took no action. Hawaii remained on that sabotage alert from November 27th until the time of the attack. With planes bunched and ammunition inaccessible, our Hawaiian forces had the worst possible disposition for repelling an attack.

Marshall, and Marshall alone, was responsible for this unfortunate situation. While it is true that he had many other worries and was admittedly more concerned about the Philippines and "our war effort in Europe," he was on record that "The fullest protection for the Fleet" was his obligation.

The record is clear that much of the damage incurred at Pearl Harbor was due to Marshall's failure to inform or instruct Short further on the basis of the mass of information available to him. Marshall was very reluctant about admitting this and every attempt was made to relieve him of that responsibility.

With the possible exception of the diplomatic phase, Marshall was heavily involved in all the developments that led to the Pearl Harbor disaster. With Roosevelt dead, Hull too weak to face cross examination by the Republican members of the Committee and Stimson conveniently incapacitated until after the Committee Reports were issued, it seemed evident that Marshall was likely to be the most important Administration witness before the Congressional Committee.

And so it was.

Attempts were made to alleviate his ordeal. Marshall retired as Chief of Staff on November 18, 1945. He then expected to have a few weeks for preparation prior to his appearance before the JCC. A lawyer had been engaged to assemble and brief him on all previous testimony with which it was felt he should be familiar. Marshall was to be one of the last Washington witnesses (for the prosecution) before the appearance of the Pearl Harbor witnesses (for the defendants). Then, there was a quick shift in plans.

Communism in China

Back in 1931, at the time of the Manchurian Incident, the then Secretary of War, Patrick J. Hurley, happened to be in Shanghai. He interviewed some of the leaders of the fledgling Chinese Nationalist Government which we had recognized in 1928. He then proceeded to Japan where he in turn interviewed some of that country's Army leaders and cabinet members. He concluded that Japan was serious in her desire to dominate the mainland and had the military capability to do so. Like his cabinet colleague, Henry L. Stimson, then Hoover's Secretary of State, he developed an anti-Japanese bias and opposed early freedom for the Philippines. Unlike Stimson, however, Hurley opposed sending Japan any threatening diplomatic notes unless we meant to back them up with force. He expressed his attitude on Japan's venture in Manchuria succinctly: "Like it or fight!"

There was no more vociferous opponent of the New Deal than Patrick Hurley. However, when war came he undertook a number of assignments for FDR, the New Deal's architect and archangel. On August 18,1944, FDR appointed Hurley, a Republican, as his personal representative to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek

to promote efficient and harmonious relations between the Generalissimo and General Stilwell to facilitate General Stilwell's exercise of command over the Chinese armies.

Hurley left for China the next day via Moscow.

The basic problem at that time was that General Stilwell wanted to unite the Chinese Communist Army with the Chinese Nationalist Army in the war against the Japanese. While in Moscow, en route to China, Hurley met with the Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov. Molotov gave Hurley the impression that the Chinese Communists were only very impoverished people and that

The Soviet government should not be associated with these communist elements" nor could it in any way be blamed for this situation.... The Soviets would be glad if the United States aided the Chinese in unifying their country.... Molotov made it clear also that until Chiang Kai-shek tried by changes in his policies to improve Sino-Soviet relations, the Soviet government did not intend to take any interest in Chinese governmental affairs.

Chiang Kai-shek vs Communism

So Hurley went on to China to meet with Stilwell and Chiang Kai-shek. He found Kai-shek willing

to grant Stilwell command of the Chinese armies; but he would not consent to arming and use of the Communists' troops unless they would accept the authority of the Government.

However, the Generalissimo hesitated to give Stilwell the broad powers he desired. Exasperated, Stilwell got Marshall to draft an ultimatum over Roosevelt's signature for Stilwell to present to Chiang. That did it. Chiang realized it was Stilwell's doing and was "deeply offended." He wired Roosevelt that he was willing to place an American officer in command of the combined forces fighting Japan, "but, 'I cannot confer this heavy responsibility upon General Stilwell'." Marshall attempted to support Stilwell as the only one fit for the task, but FDR finally relieved Stilwell and replaced him with General Albert C. Wedemeyer.

Hurley was later to learn that Stilwell's State Department advisors, John P. Davies and John Stewart Service, were strongly pro-communist and anti-Chiang. Stilwell's diary was later found to contain many statements derogatory of Chiang as well as the solution for which Stilwell had been working:

The cure for China's trouble is the elimination of Chiang Kai-shek. The only thing that keeps this country split is his fear of losing control. He hates the Reds and will not take any chance of giving them a toehold in the government.

It would seem that Chiang had some justification for telling Hurley that

he was convinced Stilwell "was in conspiracy with the Communists to overthrow the government."

Stilwell, like Marshall, considered the Communists our allies.

Hurley still had his work cut out for him. Chiang wrote Roosevelt that he had complete confidence in Hurley and was relying on him for help in negotiating with the Chinese Communists. As a result, FDR appointed Hurley to be the American Ambassador to China. Whereupon Hurley began negotiating with the Communists with the defeat of Japan as the primary objective. His difficulties were increased by a very active faction of State Department employees who were advising the Chinese Communists to hold out while they were devising plans for arming the Chinese Communist troops. Hurley had to request the removal of John Davies and John Service from the China Theater.

Hurley then thought he was making progress in establishing unity between the two Chinese factions. They seemed to agree on cooperating in unification of their Armed forces while moving toward the establishment of

a democratic constitution adopted by a convention in which all the people of China not just the political minorities would participate.

Chiang's Government was to remain in control for the time being with a War Cabinet which would include representatives of the Communist and other parties.

Yalta Gift to Communists

Then came the secret Yalta Agreement of February 11, 1945. The text was shown to General Marshall for comment, but he offered no criticism. It was signed by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. In order to induce the Soviet Union to enter the war against Japan after the defeat of Germany, it had been secretly agreed, without consulting Chiang Kai-shek, to grant the Soviet Communists certain rights in China.

After reporting his progress in China, Hurley heard rumors of what he called "a far-reaching betrayal of China's interests." He returned to Washington to investigate. He found FDR only a physical shadow of his former self. FDR denied to him that he had made any agreement

that would destroy the territorial integrity and political independence of China, and assure Communist conquest of that country.

Witnessing FDR in his "sickness of death," Hurley felt that FDR believed he was telling the truth. Hurley finally located a copy of the agreement and showed it to FDR, who became disturbed. FDR then directed Hurley

to go to London and Moscow; to speak to Churchill and to Stalin; and seek a way to ameliorate the betrayal of China.

On visiting Churchill, Hurley was assured that Great Britain would support the American policy of support for Chiang Kaishek's National Government. Hurley's report on his conference with Stalin, April 15, 1945, in the presence of Ambassador Averell Harriman and Foreign Minister Molotov stated:

In short, Stalin agreed unqualifiedly to America's policy in China as outlined to him during this conversation.

Japan Loses -- Communists Win

Before Hurley could complete his mission, Roosevelt died on April 12th. On assuming the Presidency, Harry S. Truman soon took steps to assure both Churchill and Stalin that he would carry out FDR's policies, including those reached at Yalta. On June 18, 1945, Hurley was told by the Secretary of State:

As you know, the President is wholly committed to the fulfillment of the agreement made at Yalta.

On his return to China, Hurley found out that the Chinese Communists had learned of the still secret Yalta Agreement as it pertained to China. Mao Tse-tung proclaimed that

our ultimate program is to push China forward to Socialism and Communism; this is definite and beyond question.

A month and a half later, Truman sent Hurley a message to deliver to Chiang Kai-shek on June 15, 1945. It would inform him that the Soviet Union was entering the war against Japan and Soviet troops would be entering Chinese territory.

As compensation, Stalin had demanded, and the United States and Great Britain had agreed with his demands

for special rights in Mongolia and Manchuria. The Soviet interpretation of the Yalta Agreement went far beyond its actual terms. When Chiang protested to Truman, he was told to work out any differences in interpretation with Stalin.

It thus became evident that the Republic of China was left at the mercy of Stalin. A Chinese-Soviet treaty was signed on August 24, 1945. As General Wedemeyer has written, there was a stepped-up program of Communist propaganda. Chiang Kai-shek was painted as an enemy of the people. Soviet forces compelled United States naval vessels to withdraw from Manchurian ports. In fact, Communists actually fired on an American Admiral's launch. China's sovereignty over Manchuria, agreed upon at Cairo, was out the window.

We supposedly went to war to free China from Japanese domination. Yet we quietly acquiesced to Soviet domination of the very areas to which Japan had brought prosperity before the commies started their disruptions creating the very incidents that gave Japan an excuse to rush in troops for the protection of Japanese lives and property.

Chaos Returns to China

Hurley considered this acceptance of "Communist imperialism" a change in American policies. So he asked for an opportunity to discuss our policies in Asia with the President and Secretary of State James Byrnes. He left for Washington on September 22nd, and on October 13th, met with Truman and Byrnes. He told them he wanted to resign because there was no longer support for the policy which he had been sent to China to carry out. They urged him to reconsider and return to China. He was told that Truman's policy in China was the same as Roosevelt's. Thinking of the Yalta Agreement, Hurley asked for a "statement defining the current policy."

While awaiting the issuance of such a policy statement by the Secretary of State or the President, Hurley took a vacation. Getting impatient, he finally issued a statement of his own from New Mexico. He referred to our November 26, 1941, ultimatum to Japan asking Japan to vacate China, asserting that:

The American policy stated by Secretary Hull and President Roosevelt was the immediate cause of our war against Japan.... Japan is defeated. Chinese independence for which we fought Japan has not yet been achieved. Until it is our victory cannot be real.

Meanwhile, General Wedemeyer was facing increasing problems in China. Conditions in China were fast becoming chaotic. He was operating under directives that placed him, as both the American Commander of the China Theater and Chiang's Chief of Staff, in an impossible situation. On November 20th, he sent two long messages to his superiors. They described the situation, including the advances made by both the Soviet and Chinese Communists. It was his belief that

Chiang Kai-shek sincerely desires to achieve stability in China, to unify the country, to institute democratic procedures and to implement social reforms of a wide and sweeping character.... He is selfless in his approach to the situation. However, surrounding him are men without scruples who are primarily interested in self-aggrandizement. Chiang is extremely loyal to those officials and war lords who in the past have supported him. As a consequence, they have been appointed to positions of responsibility in the Government even though they are incompetent and/or unscrupulous.... Whereas the politician in China seeks to enrich himself through machination and chicanery, the Chinese businessman has a code of ethics that is exemplary and he usually conforms to this code.

Wedemeyer concluded that there was only a remote chance that the Chinese Communists and the National Government would ever come to a satisfactory agreement. He also concluded that the Soviets had broken their agreements and were creating "favorable conditions for the realization of Chinese Communist aims." He further concluded that the presence of American Forces

might possibly develop a tense and dangerous situation with the Soviet Government and will inevitably lead to serious involvement in fratricidal warfare.

Wedemeyer then recommended that he be relieved as Chiang's Chief of Staff and that American Forces be removed from the China Theater

as early as practicable and concomitantly furnish continued and accelerated economic assistance to the existing recognized China Government; or, until China has developed adequate internal power ... proclaim a U.S. policy embodying the determination to continue military and economic support to the Chinese Central Government.

Without saying so specifically, Wedemeyer was describing a chaotic situation of irresponsible and inefficient government incapable of maintaining peace in the market place. The situation he disclosed closely resembled that which years earlier had led the Japanese to send a police force to China to protect the lives and property of Japanese businessmen then subjected to constant communist propaganda and harassment.

U.S. Refused to Oppose Communists

Washington's reply to Wedemeyer stated that, while the State Department wanted to help Chiang get the Japanese Out Of China, it "does not wish to support the National Government directly against the Communists." The State Department,

convinced that Mao's Communists represented an important popular movement and that the United States could not openly combat it without suffering disastrously under the charge of "imperialist meddling," wished to stay clear of the struggle between Chiang and Mao.

In short, to oust the Japanese we had fought a world war, but to oust Communists would be "imperialist meddling." Many people still do not realize that FDR's desire to hide the economic failure of the New Deal and end the resulting mass unemployment led him to take us step by step into a bloody and expensive World War, a war that was to make large parts of Asia and Europe safe for communism.

On November 23, 1945, Wedemeyer wired back that it would be impossible to support Chiang and at the same time avoid his war with the Chinese Communists.

Such United States support to the National government will definitely involve American forces in fraticidal warfare. There can be no mistake about this.... If the unification of China and Manchuria under Chinese National forces is to be a U.S. policy, involvement in fratricidal warfare and possibly in war with the Soviet Union must be accepted and would definitely require additional U.S. forces far beyond those presently available in the theater.

This caused Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal to enter in his diary:

It appears that if Manchuria and perhaps North China are not to pass to Chinese control but rather pass to Soviet control or separate states under its domination by a progression of circumstances, then Russia will have achieved in the Far East approximately the objectives Japan initially set out to accomplish.

Hurley Resigns

Disgusted with his inability to get any clear statement of American policy in China, Pat Hurley tried to resign his Ambassadorship to China by phone. Hurley wanted to quit because he believed Truman "accepted the Yalta Secret Agreement as 'basic policy' toward China." Secretary Byrnes refused to accept Hurley's resignation. So Hurley returned to Washington, There he found that the pro-communist State Department men he had replaced in China had not been reassigned "as President Truman had promised." On November 26th, further developments annoyed Hurley, including attacks on him in the Communist newspaper, the Daily Worker, on the floor of the House of Representatives, and in private statements attributed to Secretary Byrnes that he would prefer as Ambassador in China a "deserving Democrat" who agreed with the Yalta policies.

Hurley wrote a letter of resignation

denouncing the un-American elements in the State Department, and warning that the failures in American policy in China were paving the way for another world war, and revealing the provisions of the Yalta Secret Agreement which had opened China to Soviet domination.

Senator Vandenberg persuaded him to remove any mention of the still secret Yalta Agreement on the premise that there was still some hope that changes might be made in it,

After rewriting his resignation, Hurley, who was unable to get an appointment with the President, called on the Secretary of State on the morning of November 27th. Byrnes again tried to persuade him not to resign, stating that both he and the President "upheld traditional American policy toward China." Apparently Byrnes believed that he had persuaded Hurley to return to China and so informed Truman by phone. Then, as the Cabinet gathered at the White House for lunch, the Washington news ticker carried parts of a speech Hurley was to deliver to the Press Club that noon, in which he announced his resignation. After lunch, Byrnes phoned Hurley, who confirmed his resignation. When Byrnes so informed the President, Truman rang up Marshall to offer him Hurley's former position as Ambassador to China. Marshall promptly accepted the appointment.


From The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1983-84 (Vol. 4, No. 4), pages 425-436.